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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 2

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verses 1-10

A. The Change from Barrenness to Fertility 1:1-2:10

In the first subsection (1 Samuel 1:1 to 1 Samuel 2:10), we have the joyful story of Samuel’s miraculous birth and his mother’s gratitude to God for reversing her barrenness and making her fertile. The significance of this story is not only that it gives us the record of how Samuel was born and that his mother was a godly woman. It also shows how God, in faithfulness to His promise to bless those who put Him first (Deuteronomy 28), did so even for a despised woman in Israel (cf. Rahab and Ruth). He brought blessing to all Israel because of her faith.

Verses 1-10

2. Hannah’s Song of Solomon 2:1-10

Some commentators have seen Hannah’s prayer as a non-essential song of praise included in the text for sentimental reasons. But this magnificent prayer provides the key to interpreting the rest of 1 and 2 Samuel. In this prayer, which contains no petition, Hannah articulated her belief that God rewards trust with blessing. He turns barrenness into fertility, not just in her case but universally. Mary, the mother of Jesus, incorporated some of Hannah’s song in her own "Magnificat" (Luke 1:46-55).

"The Song of Hannah appears near the beginning of 1 Samuel, and the Song of David appears near the end of 2 Samuel. These two remarkably similar hymns of praise thus constitute a kind of inclusio, framing the main contents of the books and reminding us that the two books were originally one. Both begin by using ’horn’ (1 Samuel 2:1; 2 Samuel 22:3) as a metaphor for ’strength,’ referring to God as the ’Rock,’ and reflecting on divine ’deliverance/salvation’ (1 Samuel 2:1-2; 2 Samuel 22:2-3). Both end by paralleling ’his king’ with ’his anointed’ (1 Samuel 2:10; 2 Samuel 22:51)." [Note: Youngblood, p. 579.]

Hannah praised God because He had provided salvation for His people (1 Samuel 2:1-2). She had learned that God will humble people who view themselves as self-sufficient (1 Samuel 2:3-4), but He will help those who cast themselves on Him, asking Him to provide what they need (1 Samuel 2:5-8). Therefore the godly and the wicked will experience vastly different fates (1 Samuel 2:9-10). The Old Testament writers spoke of Sheol (1 Samuel 2:6), the abode of the dead, as though it were a huge underground cave where judgment takes place (cf. Deuteronomy 32:22; Psalms 88:3-6; et al.). The whole point of this inspired poetic prayer is that people should trust in the Lord. Hannah had done this, and God had blessed her miraculously.

Hannah’s song contains a reference to a king that God would raise up as His anointed representative to lead Israel (1 Samuel 2:10). This is one of a few such references made by an ordinary Israelite that God recorded in Scripture (cf. Judges 8:22-23). God had revealed through Moses that in the future He would provide a king for His people (Deuteronomy 17). God revealed His purpose to set up a king over His people as early as Genesis (Genesis 17:6; Genesis 17:16; Genesis 35:11; Genesis 49:10; cf. Genesis 1:26-28). Hannah’s reference to this king shows that the people of Israel looked forward to the fulfillment of that promise. Shortly after this the people demanded a king from God (1 Samuel 8:4-7).

"This is the first reference in the OT to the king as the anointed of the Lord. Later, in the eschatological thought of Judaism, this expression became the characteristic title of the expected Deliverer, the Messiah or the Christ, who would alleviate world troubles in a Messianic era." [Note: Fred E. Young, "First and Second Samuel," in The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, p. 276.]

The motif of God making the barren fertile in response to their trust and obedience runs through the rest of 1 and 2 Samuel (cf. Samuel). So does the corollary truth that God will make the "powerful," who are not trusting and obedient, infertile and ultimately dead (cf. Saul). Likewise the motif of the Lord’s anointed king is a major one in 1 and 2 Samuel (cf. David). Thus this prayer prepares the reader for the rest of the book.

In 1 Samuel 1:1 to 1 Samuel 2:10 we also find for the first time the reversal of fortune motif that is a major theme in 1 and 2 Samuel. [Note: Longman and Dillard, p. 159.] People apparently unimportant become important, and those who appear to be important become unimportant (cf. Matthew 19:30). The crucial factor for them as Israelites was their response to the will of God as contained in the Mosaic Covenant.

God will bless people who want to further His program in the world by making it possible for them to do that. He may even do supernatural things to enable them to do so. Natural limitations do not limit God. Knowledge of what God has revealed about Himself and His program is what God uses to inspire trust in Himself and interest in His program. God may even reverse the fortunes of people in response to their response to His will.

Verses 11-17

1. Eli’s sons’ wickedness 2:11-17

Eli’s sons were not only evil in their personal lives, but they flagrantly disregarded the will of God even as they served as leaders of Israel’s worship. They neither knew the Lord (in the sense of paying attention to Him, 1 Samuel 2:12) nor treated His offerings as special (1 Samuel 2:17; cf. Malachi 1:6-14). The writer documented these evaluations with two instances of their specific practices (1 Samuel 2:13-16). The Law ordered the priests to handle the offerings in particular ways to respect God’s holiness (cf. Leviticus 3:3; Leviticus 3:5; Leviticus 7:34; Deuteronomy 18:3). However, Eli’s sons served God the way they chose (cf. Korah’s behavior in Numbers 16). The Law allowed the priests to take for themselves the breast and upper part of the right rear leg of animals brought as peace offerings (Leviticus 7:30-34). But Eli’s sons took all that the three-pronged fork brought up when plunged into the remaining meat being boiled for the sacrificial meal (1 Samuel 2:13-14). The priests were to burn the best part of the sacrifices on the altar as offerings to God, but Eli’s sons demanded for themselves raw meat that was not cooked at all (1 Samuel 2:15-16). Meat was luxurious food in Israel’s economy, so Eli’s sons were living off the fat of the land. They were worthless men (1 Samuel 2:12, i.e., wicked in God’s sight; cf. 1 Samuel 1:16).

"To this day, arrogant assertiveness and self-seeking are temptations to all those in positions of great power in society." [Note: Payne, p. 18.]

"Their sin was particularly egregious since they were supposed to be teaching morality and representing the people of God (1 Samuel 2:22-25; cf. 2 Chronicles 17:7-9)." [Note: Heater, p. 120.]

Verses 11-36

B. The Contrast between Samuel and Eli’s Sons 2:11-36

Samuel’s innocence and the godlessness of Eli’s sons contrast strongly in this pericope (section of text). Samuel would succeed and become a channel of God’s blessing. Eli’s sons would fail, would become a source of frustration to Eli and the Israelites, and would ultimately perish.

"The section [1 Samuel 2:11 to 1 Samuel 4:1] poignantly illustrates the theme of ’Hannah’s Song’ as it is epitomized in 1 Samuel 2:7 b, ’he brings low, and also exalts’. For it is under the auspices of God who has determined the ruin of Hophni and Phinehas that Samuel makes his mark." [Note: Robert P. Gordon, I & II Samuel: A Commentary, p. 81.]

Verses 18-21

2. Hannah’s godly influence on Samuel and its effect 2:18-21

In the previous paragraphs two statements about the main characters described them and framed the paragraph: they did not regard the Lord, and they despised the Lord’s offerings (1 Samuel 2:12; 1 Samuel 2:17). Likewise in this one the writer described Samuel as "before the Lord" at the beginning and at the end (1 Samuel 2:18; 1 Samuel 2:21). Even though he was very young and his service was probably menial at this time (cf. 1 Samuel 3:15), Samuel lived sensitively before God. The writer did not stress this sensitive spirit here; he only hinted at it. However it comes out clearly later (e.g., ch. 4).

In the central part of this section (1 Samuel 2:18-19) the writer documented the support and encouragement to serve the Lord that Samuel received from his parents. The linen ephod was a priestly garment, as was the robe (cf. Exodus 28:31; 2 Samuel 6:14). [Note: N. L. Tidwell, "The Linen Ephod: 1 Sam. II 18 and 2 Sam. VI 14," Vetus Testamentum 24:4 (October 1974):505-7.] Hannah dressed Samuel as a little priest showing that she respected this office and wanted her son to grow up valuing it. Similarly, today, sometimes parents buy things for their children that will give them a love for those things and encourage them to pursue interest in them (e.g., a football, a child’s cooking set, etc.).

Hannah’s obedience resulted in God blessing Elkanah and Hannah even more (1 Samuel 2:20-21). Among other blessings, God gave Hannah five additional children by overcoming her barrenness and making her fertile (cf. Exodus 1:21; Psalms 127:3). Furthermore, Samuel continued to develop in a promising manner (cf. Luke 2:40; Luke 2:52).

Verses 22-26

3. Eli’s lack of influence on his sons and its effect 2:22-26

The sons of Eli followed the example of Canaanite worship rather than the instruction of the Mosaic Law. Ritual prostitution was part of Canaanite worship, and Eli’s sons seem to have adopted this custom. [Note: Merrill, "1 Samuel," p. 207.] Even when their father confronted them with their sin, Eli’s sons refused to repent. Frequently old men demonstrate wisdom, but Eli was not wise enough to restrain the sinful behavior of his sons.

The women referred to were evidently volunteer helpers in the service of the sanctuary (cf. Exodus 38:8). The Hebrew word tsaba’ also means "assembled," but here it probably means "served." Unintentional sin was pardonable under Mosaic Law, but highhanded, deliberately rebellious sin was not, particularly ritual prostitution (cf. Numbers 25:1-5; Deuteronomy 23:17; Amos 2:7-8). The punishment for highhanded sin was death (Numbers 15:30). God initially judged Eli’s sons by giving them hard hearts as a result of their sin, before He brought final destruction on them (cf. Exodus 7:3; Romans 1:24).

Earlier in Israel’s history another Phinehas, the godly son of another priest, Eleazar, had executed an Israelite named Zimri and a Moabite woman named Cozbi for practicing sexual immorality in the tabernacle (Numbers 25). Now this Phinehas, a priest and the son of another priest, Eli, was practicing sexual immorality in the tabernacle. How far the priests had departed from the Lord during the approximately 300 years that separated these incidents!

While Eli’s sons were growing in disfavor with the Lord and the Israelites (1 Samuel 2:22-25), Samuel was growing in favor with both (1 Samuel 2:26; cf. Luke 2:52) because he was obeying God.

Verses 27-36

4. The oracle against Eli’s house 2:27-36

The rest of the chapter explains why God would put Eli’s sons to death (1 Samuel 2:25). The specific criticism that the man of God (a prophet, cf. 1 Samuel 9:9-10) directed against Eli and his sons was two-fold. They had not appreciated God’s grace extended to them in the Exodus deliverance nor the opportunity to serve Him as priests (1 Samuel 2:27-29). "Kick at" (NASB, 1 Samuel 2:29; cf. Deuteronomy 32:15) means to "scorn" (NIV, Heb. ba’at). It is a serious matter to undervalue the grace of God. God had initiated blessing, but they had not responded appropriately, namely, with gratitude, trust, and obedience. Eli’s guilt (1 Samuel 2:29) lay in his failure to rebuke his sons severely for their sin (1 Samuel 3:13), though he did warn them of God’s judgment (1 Samuel 2:25). He also enjoyed the fruits of their disobedient worship (1 Samuel 2:13-16). Had Eli grown fat from eating the best portions that his sons extorted from the people (cf. 1 Samuel 4:18)?

Many students of this book have identified 1 Samuel 2:30 as its key verse because it articulates the principle that the books of Samuel illustrate. Every section of 1 and 2 Samuel demonstrates the truth of this statement.

God’s judgment on Eli and his sons was that He would dishonor them. God had promised that Levi’s descendants would serve Him forever as priests, namely, as long as Israel existed as a sovereign nation (Exodus 29:9; Numbers 25:13). Now God revealed that He would cut off Eli’s branch of the Levitical family tree. Eli was a descendant of Levi through Levi’s son Ithamar. His descendants ceased to function as priests when Solomon dismissed Abiathar as high priest. Abiathar escaped the slaughter of the priests at Nob (1 Samuel 22:17-20), but Solomon defrocked him because he supported Adonijah (1 Kings 2:27; 1 Kings 2:35).

The faithful priest God promised to raise up (1 Samuel 2:35) was initially Samuel (1 Samuel 3:1; 1 Samuel 3:20; 1 Samuel 7:9; 1 Samuel 9:2-13). Zadok, a descendant of Levi’s son Eleazar, replaced Abiathar as high priest in Solomon’s day (1 Kings 2:35). [Note: Segal, p. 40; et al.] The Lord’s anointed (1 Samuel 2:35) was the king of Israel. One of his descendants would be Messiah. Ezekiel 44:15; Ezekiel 48:11 refer to the continuing ministry of Zadok’s descendants when Messiah reigns in His future millennial kingdom. [Note: See Ronald L. Rushing, "Phinehas’ Covenant of Peace," Th.D. dissertation, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1988.] 1 Samuel 2:36 evidently continues to describe the fate of Eli’s descendants after God deposed Abiathar. [Note: For another study of 1 Samuel 2:27-36, see Tsevat, "Studies in the Book of Samuel," Hebrew Union College Annual 32 (1961):191-216.]

Notice the chiastic (crossing) structure of chapter 2 that focuses on Eli’s blessing of Samuel’s parents.

"A. The song of Hannah, concluding with reference to the Lord’s anointed (1 Samuel 2:1-10)

B. Samuel ministers before the Lord (1 Samuel 2:11)

C. The sins of Eli’s sons (1 Samuel 2:12-17)

D. Samuel ministers before the Lord (1 Samuel 2:18-19)

E. Eli blesses Samuel’s parents (1 Samuel 2:20-21 a)

D.’ Samuel grows in the Lord’s presence (1 Samuel 2:21 b)

C.’ The sins of Eli’s sons (1 Samuel 2:22-25)

B.’ Samuel grows in the Lords’ presence (1 Samuel 2:26)

A.’ The oracles of the man of God, concluding with reference to the Lord’s anointed (1 Samuel 2:27-36)" [Note: Youngblood, p. 588.]

This section reveals the importance and power of parental influence, though this is not the primary lesson. Eli had placed more importance on his sons’ personal preferences than he had on God’s preferences; he had honored them more than Him (1 Samuel 2:29). Consequently they became worthless men (1 Samuel 2:12) whom God finally killed prematurely. Hannah, on the other hand, encouraged her son, Samuel, to value the service of God. Consequently he developed into a godly man whom God and other people honored and respected (1 Samuel 2:26). Eli’s sons despised God and abused other people (1 Samuel 2:17; 1 Samuel 2:22). Samuel feared God and became a great blessing to other people.

This chapter also shows that godly influence can be more powerful than ungodly influence and can overcome many natural obstacles. God enabled Hannah to influence Samuel for good even though she seldom saw him, lived miles from him, and could not prevent the daily wicked influence of Eli’s sons over him. Her previous dedication of him to the Lord was undoubtedly a factor in her success. Other important factors were her continuing encouragement to serve God and her prayers for Samuel.

God has not blessed with godly offspring all parents who have had the same desires for their children that Hannah did. Children are responsible for their own decisions as they grow up (Ezekiel 18:4; Ezekiel 18:20). Some choose to turn away from the Lord. Nevertheless this story shows what can happen. Children can grow up in an ungodly environment away from their parents’ personal supervision and still become godly. The influence of a wise and godly parent can overcome many other ungodly influences in a child’s life.

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 2". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/1-samuel-2.html. 2012.
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